Last week when Watches & Wonders Geneva (formerly SIHH) canceled its 2020 show, the watch world gasped. Naturally, the show organizers were doing the responsible thing and taking into account the potential risks of travel with the spread of COVID-19. A couple of days later Baselworld canceled (technically, it announced to “postpone”) its show until January 2021 — after a mandate by the Swiss government for no gatherings over 1,000 people. Again, the watch world went on a small rant.
Questions abound: Will this be the death of the shows? Will we realize that we can live without watch shows? How will the brands communicate about their new products? Will they do live video presentations? Will they hold their own small fairs? Will they join other fairs around the world? Will brands just visit countries individually? The list goes on and on. Still, answers also abound.
This is not the death of shows
Shows are a gathering and a meeting place. Ask anyone who had to miss one Fair for a year how isolated they felt, how out of touch with the new products they felt. No matter how much digital technology comes our way, we are people. We crave interaction, face-to-face communication. And, if we are being honest, this is a touch and feel industry. In fact, in an interview I gave to Associated Press (APNews), where I was quoted in their article about the closing of shows (cars, wine, art, watches and more), I said exactly that. We — journalists, bloggers, retailers and consumers — need to hold a watch in our hands to appreciate its beauty, its craftsmanship, its tick.
The brands will find ways to communicate about their products
Some already are. Several announced they would band together in Geneva for Geneva Watch Days — showcasing in boutiques and hotels as in the past. While this is predominantly an option only for locals in Switzerland or Europe, this is a smart concept that can be emulated around the world. Why do all of the watch brands have to pick a different day to come to a big city and show their wares? Why can’t they band together and pick a couple of days and make it easy on all who want to see, touch, feel watches?
Other watch brands are taking advantage of some of the not-yet-canceled shows — such as here in America the CoutureTime show the first week of June. I have had at least half a dozen brands reach out and ask me if this show is viable option for them. (Of course, we have to wait to see what COVID-19 looks like by the first week of June in America.) By the way, this willingness to join another show is a good example of the fact that congregating in one place to discuss industry matters, showcase product and forecast concepts for the year is still vital.
Yet other brands have announced that they will hold video presentations of their products and create digital videos to launch on YouTube. Again, though, for the luxury brands this option is least appealing. I, for one, cannot claim to speak authoritatively on a watch that I haven’t examined via a loupe, spoken to the designers about and more.
A Shifting of Product Releases
However, given the fact that the brands are fairly ready to show their products, and that they need to get them in front of retailers to be prepared for fall, I, as a journalist, question why there are still embargoes. I have at least half a dozen or more embargoed products in my lineup to write about when the embargo lifts — typically on the first day of Watches & Wonders Geneva and Baselworld. Why are we still adhering to these embargo dates when the shows are now non-existent on those dates? Why cluster dozens of new product unveilings into a single day – where they all have to share the limelight — instead of spreading out the news?
In fact, after many conversations with brands, one truth has emerged: they are all rethinking dates. In fact, we are already seeing a shift in product releases as a result of the canceled shows. Events that were supposed to be “unveilings” are being held until summer or perhaps even fall. Product releases planned for spring and summer are being pushed to late summer — often in response to a slow down in buying and in response to not being sure yet how to introduce the product. Many brands are still examining ways to bring new watches to the people on local levels so that the reviews are real hands-on reviews and so that there is some emotion or life breathed into the articles about these ticking wonders — life and emotion you can’t really get from a press release.
And then there is the COVID-19 virus. Some say we are callous to be talking about watches when people are getting sick and dying. Others in other industries are doing this, though — talking, planning, rethinking and wondering if it’s callous. I am in several group chats where this topic has come up. Every phone call I make — and I make a lot of them — the conversation is prefaced or concluded with discussions about what will happen. None of us knows, but the fact of the matter is, the world keeps turning. Individually we all experience our own fears, grief and confusing emotions, but collectively, we all still have a job to do. Still, humanity and compassion should come into play.
The one thing I am sure of in this uncertain environment is that we all have it in us to give a little more. To be supportive to those who unsure about travel, not scoff. We all have it in us to make an extra effort to be positive on a gray day. We all have the chance to make things right instead of being antagonistic. Recently, I sat with industry legend Jean-Claude Biver, who — for those who know his talk of love — has added the word “forgiveness” to his much-anticipated, often dramatic monologs about time and watches. He says — and I agree — that forgiveness is a part of the circle of life and love. Maybe during these tough times, it is a good chance to forgive others, to embrace kindness and to stop being petty.
Yes, I did just digress from watches to people — but we are all doing that these days. And it’s a good thing.